Point of View

'Get in the gutter or take the high road': Dianne Watts debates the value of debates

'While debates are an important mechanism to communicate with the general public, the structure of them has a large impact on how valuable these public forums can be,' says former Surrey mayor.

'There have been debates where I’ve had fun and then there’s debates that have just been downright nasty'

'If you have a good moderator in any setting, whether it's broadcast on TV or the radio, or led by a board like trade or commerce, then you've got some structure for candidates to adequately communicate their ideas,' says Dianne Watts. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts addresses the value of candidates debates on the campaign trail.

During my 10 years as Surrey's mayor, I found myself on many panels during election season debating with other candidates over the issues most important to my constituents.

While debates are an important mechanism to communicate with the general public, the structure of them has a large impact on how valuable these public forums can be.

I believe the key to a productive debate comes down to the role of the moderator.

If you have a good moderator in any setting, whether it's broadcast on TV or the radio, or led by a board like trade or the Chamber of Commerce, then you've got some structure for candidates to adequately communicate their ideas.

I believe anytime someone puts their name on a ballot they should be heard. They have ideas, they're running for office for a specific reason and they want to affect change.

The challenge is the time.

You have to break it up, but still allow the opportunity for all on the panel to express some of their views, which is so important for the public and for our democratic process.

'Personally, I wanted to talk about issues'

If there's a special interest group that is dealing with the issue of the day and they hold a mayoral debate, it can turn into a gong show.

Depending on the candidates, debates can turn into a battlefield with some that just want to take another candidate down and rip them to shreds.

For me, personally, I wanted to talk about issues. You make a choice, you either get in the gutter or you take the high road, and every candidate has to make that choice.

There have been debates where I've had fun and then there's debates that have just been downright nasty.

I stuck to policy and I have zero tolerance for lying, so I would make a point of calling my fellow candidates out on it.

Misleading the general public is never a smart move because they deserve to know the truth. I'd rather spend my time making sure that they have accurate information than trying to score points.

Debates are an opportunity for constituents to preview their local candidates and make an informed decision on the policy and person they most identify with.

With structure and quality moderation, public forums and debates can be a valuable service to our communities.

CBC Vancouver will host debates in Kelowna (Oct. 15) and Vancouver (Oct. 17) ahead of British Columbia's municipal elections on Oct. 20. Find a recap of the Oct. 9 Surrey debate here, and full video here.

With files from The Early Edition

Read more from CBC British Columbia

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Dianne Watts is Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock. In fact, Watts stepped down from her federal role about a year ago to run for leader of the B.C. Liberal party.
    Oct 12, 2018 8:59 AM PT

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